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Rising U.S. Life Expectancy Reflected in 2020 Candidates

Blog Post | Health & Medical Care

Rising U.S. Life Expectancy Reflected in 2020 Candidates

2020's septuagenarian presidential candidates reflect the broader demographic trend of Americans living longer, healthier lives and remaining active for many more years.

Every remaining major candidate vying to become a nominee for the U.S. presidency is a septuagenarian. While the aged field of candidates comes with its own set of concerns, it is a sign of the country’s progress toward keeping people alive and healthy for longer than ever before.

In the race for the highest office in the land, the so-called Silent Generation is making itself heard. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), the oldest candidate, is 78 years old, as is former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who dropped out of the race this morning. Former vice president Joe Biden is 77 years old. President Donald Trump is 73 years old. At 70 years old, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is the youngest of the major candidates. She was born in mid-1949.

Several major candidates have birthdays coming up before the Election Day. By November 3rd, Senator Sanders will be 79, President Trump will be 74 and Senator Warren will be 71 years old. Biden will turn 78 shortly after the election, on November 20th.

When the current President was sworn into office at the age of 70, he was the oldest president ever inaugurated in the United States. It looks like he or whoever assumes the presidency in 2021 will beat that record.

Even among the minor candidates still in the race, septuagenarians are represented. Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, who is challenging the president for the Republican nomination in a protest campaign, is 74 years old. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who is polling at less than 2 percent nationally, is the only remaining candidate born after 1950. She is 38.

When the septuagenarian candidates were born, the polio vaccine was yet to be created, there were no commercial computers, no human being had yet been to outer space and interracial marriage was still illegal in several U.S. states.

In 1950, U.S. life expectancy stood at 68.2 years, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The U.S. life expectancy has soared since then and a temporary dip over the last couple of years due to the opioid epidemic has since reversed. The CDC’s most recent figures estimate that the U.S. life expectancy reached 78.7 years in 2018 – an increase of 0.1 year from 2017. That means that just within the lifetime of Senator Warren, the youngest major candidate, U.S. life expectancy has expanded by over a decade.

“Healthy life expectancy” or the number of years one can expect to enjoy good health, has also increased significantly. An American can expect to enjoy around 68 and a half years of good health, on average, according to the World Health Organization’s most recent estimate, for 2016.

The actuarial tables suggest that whichever septuagenarian wins in November, he or she will likely survive the next four years. Based on the average for their age, that’s a 76.8 percent chance for Sanders; 79.2 percent for Biden; 84.8 percent for Trump and, reflecting that women tend to outlive men, a 91.8 percent chance for the relatively youthful Warren. Still, there is no doubt that the vice presidential candidates will matter more than usual this election cycle.

The country’s Founding Fathers likely could not have imagined a future with such remarkable longevity. The overwhelmingly septuagenarian field of major candidates has sparked concerns over the state of the various candidates’ health and mental acuity. While those worries should be taken seriously, the fact that so many septuagenarians are running reflects the broader demographic trend of Americans living longer, healthier lives and remaining active for many more years—a fact that should be celebrated.

Blog Post | Life Expectancy

The Gift of Life Years

The number of life years has grown by a factor of 20 since 1800.

Summary: This article explores the remarkable increase in total life years, which is the product of population growth and life expectancy. It shows how life years have grown by a factor of 20 since 1800, thanks to more people with the freedom to learn and innovate.

We measure life in quality and quantity. Quality can be a challenge because it is different for everyone. Measuring quantity is much easier­—just count how many people there are and multiply that figure by how long those people are expected to live.

According to the website OurWorldinData, in 1800, there were 1 billion people on the planet. Today there are over 7.8 billion of us. That website also reports that life expectancy in 1800 was around 28.5 years. Fortunately for all of us, life expectancy has increased to 73.2 years, with men at 70.8 years and women at 75.6. 

Total life years, then, is the combination of population growth and increase in life expectancy. In the last 220 years, life expectancy increased by 157 percent, and the population increased by 680 percent. Multiply those together, and you find that life years increased by 1,903 percent. 

Life years, population growth and life expectancy progress graphic

We can also look at this extraordinary growth by using a different kind of visualization. In the chart below, the population, measured in billions, is on the horizontal axis, and life expectancy, measured in years, is on the vertical axis. In 1800, there were 1 billion people and the average life expectancy was 28.5 years. The red box, then, represents 28.5 billion or the total number of life years in 1800.

Life expectancy in years v. Population in Billions graphic

We will use a green box to represent the total life years in 2020. That year, life expectancy was 73.2 years (i.e., 157 percent higher than it was in 1800). Between 1800 and 2020, the world’s population increased to 7.8 billion, or by 680 percent. So, the total life years in 2020 amounted to 571 billion – a 1,903 percent increase since 1800. 

More people with the freedom to learn and innovate can share their creations in the marketplace, thus making life safer, healthier, and longer for everyone. People today get 16,315 more days to enjoy living compared to those in 1800. Since 1800, every one percent increase in population corresponded to 24 days of additional life expectancy. Total life years increased 2.8 percent for every one percent increase in population. Life years have grown by a factor of 20 since 1800, coming out to an average annual increase of 1.38 percent for the last 220 years. At this rate, life years double every 51 years.

You can watch a video of this story here:

Blog Post | Health & Medical Care

U.S. Lifespans Long Without Nanny State Interventions

The U.S. has outperformed Scandinavia in terms of life expectancy gains over the last five and half decades.

Americans spend more on healthcare than any other people in the world, yet U.S. life expectancy lags behind that in many a rich country. This discrepancy between expenditure and outcome, leftists at home and abroad argue, could be addressed by moving toward a single payer system, which would “save money, cover everyone and help us live longer.” The U.S. healthcare system needs to be reformed, but is even more government intervention in our healthcare the answer? Let us first look at the data.

In 2014, Americans spent $9,400 per person in 2011 dollars adjusted for purchasing power. That’s the most in the world. In second place came Monaco with $7,302. Scandinavian countries, which are often held up as examples to be emulated when it comes to life expectancy, spent less. In 2014, Denmark, Norway and Sweden spent $4,782, $6,350 and $5,218 per person respectively. In 2015, the average life expectancy in the three countries was 80.35 years, 81.66 years and 82.28 years respectively. In the United States, it was mere 79.16 years.

The United States has been drifting away from a free market in healthcare for decades. Obamacare is merely the latest, though arguably the most ambitious, attempt to regulate American healthcare so far. Still, the left feels that Obamacare did not go far enough. So, would a single payer system lead to better health outcomes in America?

Not according to Jonah Goldberg, who notes, “A recent study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation measured life expectancy by county across the United States. In 2014, a child born in Summit County, Colo., could be expected to live 86.83 years. The life expectancy of a child born in Ogala Lakota County in South Dakota, seat of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, is nearly 20 years shorter.”

I think Goldberg is onto something when he writes that life expectancy discrepancies have more to do with lifestyle than insurance. If all of us ate well, exercised regularly, and stopped drinking and smoking, the U.S. average would go up. Other changes would make us better off still. Goldberg notes that once fatal car crashes and murders are removed from calculations of life expectancy, the United States has the “world’s best life expectancy numbers.” Whether that’s true or not (there is some controversy about the methodology used in the original study), there is more.

Consider the Human Progress chart above. As you can see, the United States started from a considerably worse position, when the United Nations began collecting national life expectancy statistics in 1960. In that year, American, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish life expectancies were 69.77 years, 72.18 years, 73.55 years and 73.01 years respectively. During the following 55 years, life expectancy in the four countries rose by 13.45 percent, 11.32 percent, 11.02 percent and 12.72 percent respectively.

As can be seen, the United States has outperformed Scandinavia in terms of life expectancy gains over the last five and half decades. As a consequence, the gap between the two has decreased. The left might claim that U.S. life expectancy gains coincided with the creation of Medicare and Medicaid programs, even though there is some well-known research that does not support that conclusion.

Be it as it may, the lack of a single payer system (and, perhaps, other more draconian interventions in the health market that can be found in Scandinavia) does not seem to have hindered the superior progress that America’s healthcare system has made in terms of life expectancy gains so far.

This first appeared in Reason.

Blog Post | Health & Medical Care

Life Expectancy Up Around the World

Great strides have been made since the 1960s

At Human Progress, we have recently updated our global life expectancy data for the period between 1960 and 2015. And it is, by and large, a happy story. First, contrast the image of the map of the world in 1960 with that in 2015. The whole world has gotten significantly darker, signifying increasing lifespans—they increased from 42 years to 68 years—across the globe.

Even the world’s poorest regions have experienced significant improvements in life expectancy. South Asia, for example, comprises Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives, and is home to 1.8 billion people. The region saw its life expectancy skyrocket by an extraordinary 26.5 years, or 63 percent. The world average, in contrast, rose “only” by 19.12 years, or 37 percent.

Sub-Saharan Africa, unfortunately, had suffered a serious blow in the 1990s, due to the largely unchecked spread of HIV/AIDS. Thankfully, the region appears to be on the mend, in large part because of the growing availability of cheap antiretroviral drugs. In 1960, a typical resident of sub-Saharan Africa had a life expectancy of 40.2 years. That rose to 59 years in 2015—an appreciation of 47 percent.

What about the United States? In recent months, we have heard much about the increase in death rates among American middle-aged whites. This is a disturbing development that bears watching, but the overall trend in the United States continues to be positive—even when compared with such star performers as the Scandinavian countries. While our life expectancy trails Scandinavia, American gains have been greater. Between 1960 and 2015, life expectancy rose by 12.71 percent, 11.32 percent and 11.02 percent in Sweden, Denmark and Norway respectively. In the United States, it rose by 13.45 percent.

Life expectancy is one of the best indicators of the overall state of humanity, for it reflects the interplay of rising incomes, material abundance and medical breakthroughs as well as declining violence. Happily, the data shows that contrary to the dire predictions of doomsayers, like Thomas Malthus, Rachel Carson, and Paul Ehrlich, humanity continues to flourish.

This piece was first published in Reason.